Lawmakers Challenge Temple VA Over 'Fixed' Scheduling Issues - kcentv.com - KCEN HD - Waco, Temple, and Killeen

Lawmakers Challenge Temple VA Over 'Fixed' Scheduling Issues

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(KCEN) - The effect of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation on VAs across the country is anybody's guess. That includes the medical clinic in Temple, which is among dozens embroiled in scandal.

Leadership there says they've made changes over the last two years, but not everyone is convinced they have.

It all stems from allegations that doctors changes requested appointment dates to make them fall closer to the actual appointments. That kept the actual appointment within 14 days of the requested date, a big factor in determining performance ratings and potential bonuses.

After an investigation, the VA came up with a plan to fix it.

It's a serious allegation: that Temple VA leaders caring more about boosting performance ratings and their bonuses than about their patients.

"They don't care about us," a veteran and long-time Temple VA employee told us. "All they care about is their bonuses."

The employee didn't want to be identified for fear of losing his job, but he's seen plenty in his time there that he feels is wrong.

"You're failing, I'm sorry," he said of the leadership at Temple's VA hospital.

"If there has been criminal activity, I think they should be prosecuted, and if convicted, I think they should be sent to prison," Congressman John Carter, who represents Temple in Washington, D.C., said in a phone interview Friday.

Carter is partnering with Sen. John Cornyn in asking for an FBI investigation.

"As I look at it now, I think inspector general's not the solution to the problem," said Carter.

The inspector general for the national VA investigated Temple once already.

The final report in 2012 notes, "...staff indicated that appointments were routinely made incorrectly by using the next available appointment date instead of the patient's desired date."

That's the same problem identified by internal documents revealed this week, and one that local veterans say needs to be solved.

"It's not so much as identifying the problems. Anybody can do that," said Michael Kemp, who served 23 years in the Navy before retiring in 1994. "But it's the few individuals that can find a solution to the problem."

The VA says they beefed up training for scheduling procedures after the first report and that, "Scheduling compliance audits are conducted daily to monitor compliance..."

A spokesperson for the Temple VA told us that audit system essentially looks back at the requested appointment dates and flags those that fall on the same date as a lot of others.

But issues are sent to offices within the Temple VA, not to any outside monitoring group.

That doesn't satisfy some close to the situation.

The employee who wanted to remain anonymous said, "I used to love the VA. I really did."

The Temple spokesperson said she didn't know the extent to which the plan was implemented across the medical center, but said the VA is good about following the recommendations of the Office of the Inspector General.

Joanne Moffett, a spokesperson for the inspector general's office, said there are 42 investigations into VAs across the country for these specific scheduling allegations.

The Temple investigation was closed after that first report, when the office was satisfied with their plan to make changes. Moffett couldn't say whether or not Temple is on the list of current investigations.

And while Kemp, like many veterans, said he hasn't personally had problems with the Central Texas VA system, allegations of abuse don't necessarily surprise him.

"There are going to be people that are going to find ways to circumvent proper procedures," he said.

"We were just a very small part of a very big problem," Congressman Carter said.

Carter said his office helped bring the issue onto the inspector's radar, based on Temple VA employee complaints. And after the report came out, Cornyn's office said they tried to get more information.

"Unfortunately, as recent reports have shown, the problems have only grown," a representative for Cornyn writes in a statement.

And as for how to solve what Moffett called a systemic problem, that often goes the route of firing the leadership.

"That's not going to solve any problem," Kemp said. What he thinks might help is changing the system of incentives for VA doctors.
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